Should Christian leaders ask for money? (This article is excerpted from What the Bible Actually Says About Money: 31 Meditations by Scott Morton)
Do we not have a right to eat and drink [at the expense of the Church]? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the Gospel of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:4 and 12
Some believers look down on mission agencies or churches that ask for money. They say that if Christian leaders truly trusted God, they would not lower themselves to ask for money. It’s unspiritual. Stories abound of miraculous last-minute funds arriving when all seemed lost. So leaders are advised, “Don’t ask, just pray. God’s will done in God’s way never lacks God’s supply.”
“Telling only God” was accidentally popularized in the late 1800s by the legendary orphanage director, George Mueller. Knowing his history helps explain his views on asking. As a child in Germany, Mueller habitually stole money from his father’s desk. Then, as a young man, Mueller checked into hotels wearing expensive clothes, but he ducked out without paying.
But in early adulthood, Mueller became a dedicated Christian and eventually a pastor in England. In those days, churches were financed by renting or selling pews to parishioners. Mueller believed this violated the partiality teaching in James 2—welcoming a rich man but ignoring a poor man. So Mueller placed a chest at the back of his church for free-will gifts and promised his congregation he would say nothing about money.
Similarly, at his orphanages, Mueller never asked for money, but he and his team shared answers to prayer about miraculous financial deliverances—like the day the milk wagon broke down in front of the orphanage the very morning they ran out of milk. Plus, he published reports of orphanage finances. Technically, he didn’t ask, but he indirectly informed prospective donors that the orphanage had financial needs and gave them a way to respond.
Today, Evangelicals have narrowed Mueller’s practice into: “Tell only God.” As a result, many mission workers and Christian leaders don’t speak about money. Often, feeling a sense of shame, they silently try to copy the faith of George Mueller, hoping money will miraculously roll in.
This “no-ask” method is attractive because it avoids the risk of rejection and appears more spiritual, but the Bible contains several examples of asking to advance God’s kingdom:
• Moses asked the Israelites to give for the desert tabernacle (Exodus 35:1–9).
• Nehemiah asked King Artaxerxes for timber to build Jerusalem’s walls (Nehemiah 2:4–8).
• Elijah asked a Gentile widow for support (1 Kings 17).
• Paul asked the Roman Christians to fund his ministry to Spain (Romans 15:20–24).
• Jesus instructed the Twelve and the Seventy to seek worthy hosts for lodging—twice (Matthew 10:5–15 and Luke 10:1–12).
Some say Jesus Himself never asked, but is that true? He asked to borrow a boat, a donkey, and an upper room, and He asked John to care for His mother. He asked people to deny themselves and come after Him (Luke 9:23). My friend, is it asking that bothers you or is it the pushy fundraising of some gospel ministries? Paul declares that he and other gospel workers had the right to be supported by the Church—by believers. But he does not demand his right (use this right) because of relational and moral problems in the Corinthian church. Receiving money from the Corinthians would cause a hindrance to the gospel. It’s the same today. Pushy fundraising dishonors Christ and hinders the gospel—speak up when you see that! But your annoyance at being asked does not de-legitimize the right of God’s messengers to ask for money to support God’s Kingdom.
Yes, we’ve heard wonderful stories of last-minute deliverances, but we don’t hear stories where time ran out and God did not supply. “God’s will done in God’s way” usually involves inviting others to join you in accomplishing God’s will.
Scott Morton is the International Funding Coach for the Navigators.